The Spiral and a Vortex
by Gerardo Muñoz
by Andrés Ajens,
Santiago de Chile : Das Kapital Ediciones (2017), 94 pp.
To write or speak on behalf of Ajens’ recent book, Cúmulo Lúcumo (Das Kapital, 2017), is already to allude to its secret vortex. Cúmulo is a book that we welcome and celebrate yet another feat of language that dwells in a threshold. As a common friend of ours has said, when commenting on his work: Ajens’ exists under the sign of defeat or non-victory, which is the defeat of language itself in its movement towards the impossibility of saying, producing, and translating . In a way, this commentary cannot and will not attempt to say “something”, in the sense of computing and aggregating a sort of supplement to this disseminating de-feat. Rather, I can only celebrate its feat in order to allow for a time of arrival, in the form of a brief and personal celebration without dues and debts.
If we can say that Ajens is a major master of the poematicity after the end of the grand Latin American Master Poem (something, which Ajens displaces in his collection of essays, Poetry After the Invention of America); it is because we have assumed Ajens’ gesture as a radical opening for a submerged poetical region. I think this is something like the vortex of his work, and not just a contingent aspect of the most recent Cúmulo Lúcumo. This is a movement that is necessarily infrapoetical, and which I would like to briefly mediate and elaborate in the limited space of this brief intervention.
Cúmulo Lúcumo has keen resemblance with recent book by Ajens, Bolivia Sea (Flying Island Books, 2015), which is an extremely rare little book given published by an Australian press. Bolivian Sea already anticipates some of the registers in which Cúmulo moves through: graphical fragmentation and glyphs, multilanguage citations and letters to friends, biographical anecdotes, and in its most radical movement: the erosion of the reading page as the ultimate act of decreation. But one can also say that all destruction of physical and legible objectivity, as part of the iconoclastic gesture of poetological maneuver is already registered in the modernist attempt to the flight out of this world towards the Idea (and to the Absolute, in the strict Hegelian sense). Ultimately, this is Duchamp and Malevich, but also Joyce and Mallarme. The hidden truth of Modernism was that it thought that it could fly, as to achieve the high dream of the somnambulism of history in the absence of the ground of the image. Ajens is a second order resistance to this, and his inception into the poetological space offers no compensation for the ‘farewell to this Idea”, but rather its radical abandonment. However, we should not get ahead of ourselves.
Let us pass through an almost banal moment of precedent. I said that Cúmulo takes after Bolivian sea, and in fact, Ajens does not hide this from the reader. In the closing page of Cúmulo, Ajens writes “Bolivian Sea fuera una texto preparatorio o aun “el inconsciente” de Cúmulo lúcumo”. En cualquier caso, ambas publicaciones se co-pertenece y suspenden, hasta incierto punto, los sueños de origen y destino” (Ajens 92).
There is a sense of convergence, but also of suspension and uncertainty, leaving the tracks for co-habitation in interregnum (the temporal stretch between two kingdoms), which is our current predicate, but is also Ajens’ time of the poem, a space of fragile theology, or if you prefer, of extreme theologization, of the multiplicity of the gods. This is what the infrapoetical spaces fight against. Through Cúmulo, Ajens knows that he will not oppose the end of the Poem-God to a new godly figure of the modernist kind (a graphic iteration, a language discursive game, a liturgy of gestures and untranslatable opacities). As Goethe frequently asserted the division of the metaphysical insomnia works through positing competing gods: nemo contra deum nisi deus ipse. Only a god can replace and stand up to a past God or to your God. But more importantly, for Ajens, there is “uncertainty” of the origin (arche) and destiny. In this sense, it is in the interregnum, where we find some “really fascinating shit” happening, to paraphrase a letter by Joyce where a mention of Chile also takes place (Ajens 14).
So, lets move to the shit that provokes interest. This is not just the poetics of the defeated as the defeat constitutive of writing and its dissemination and psychic inversions, but the atheological, deprived of gnostic opposition (‘my God’), which stamps Ajens’ poem as infrapoetical, nothing less than a state of grace. Let’s take, to begin, a line from “Aquísimo”: “en gracia (tuchei mienta La poética: acaecer, caso y acaso, / die Gnade al decir de Celan),”. The poem does not seek to save. It is a movement towards a fall, “a marca and comarca”, of the de-feat. The poem continues: “How many will die when Chile beings / La Marcha de los Muertos / And where the march lead?” (Ajens 16). Origin and destiny are the stamps of mystery in the interregnum. Origin (as in the origin of the poem) can only be an-archic, and its destiny remains unknown. And it is no coincidence that Ajens ends the poem with a citation and re-inscription of Vallejo: “andando el tiempo / sabe ya andar su in- / ejecutable aun, solisimo” (Ajens 16). This verse must be read in tandem with what a great philosopher of our times have said about the “destiny of the poem”: mainly, every time the poem is directed towards an illiterate reader. We come to him occupying his impossible place; a topos without writing and voice. The question asked remains unanswered only insofar as it dwells on the fissured unsayability of the poem, its univocal illiteracy, and its infrapoetical relation with the Poem as ontological and rhetorical translation, conversion, and production (of sense, sound, and historical gathering).
From this vortex, another question emerges implicitly: if the movement without execution freezes time from history; how do we come to terms with those destined for death in the site of finitude captured in the trope of the “march of the dead”? Now, I am in the position to move forward my reading and suggest that the impossibility of the poem, the sayability of the infrapoetical is its auto-affirmation in the face of nothingness (interregnum). This problem emerges directly in “YAQHA LAYQA PIHICHIITANKA”, a sort of autographic remembrance in the atopos of the other, that is, folklorist and populist Chilean songwriter Violeta Parra:
“cómo no volver a chuqiyapu marka / como no domar al tigre ni marcar / territories y vivir para cantarla” (Ajens 21). Infrapoetical unsayability contracts suspension through the expression that abounds in Cúmulo lúcumo, that is, “como no”. The examples abound: “como no traslucir –?”; “como no domar”; “como no meter la pata”, etc. Even the epigraph by R. Bopp cites from the title Como se vai de São Paulo a Curitiba (1928).
What is the status of “cómo” (how) and “cómo no” (how not to) in Ajens’ writing? I cannot attempt to take up this enormous task, since I think that it is a problem that traverses much of Ajens’ work, from Cúmulo back to Bolivian Sea (2015), from Æ (2016) to quase flanders, quase extremadura (2001, trans. Erin Moure). In an attempt to breech the topic, I propose to return to the question of defeat, which I departed from. The atopic defeat is the minimal source to suggest that the “como no” is the affirmation of the immemorial of the poetic. Neither reactive restitution, nor oblivious recommencement; the infra-poetical incommunicability can express itself precisely in the impossibility of not being able to do otherwise. And this affirmation in the face of defeat is the affirmation of an infantile or illiterate (analfabeto, in Vallejo’s sense) humanity without a god.
I am reaching a sort of momentary conclusion, a halt, before Ajens’ Cúmulo. How not to do it? I say to myself. Now, I turn to “Strategic Planning”, where we read: “avista un cumulo lúcumo jamás antes visto, se alza en espiral / una corriente fresa lo acerca al camino, revuela / un panel carretero dicho en ingles arriba (abajo) – se eleva” (Ajens 37). The movement displaces and unfolds Cúmulo Lúcumo beyond the poem, as it were; into the stream, (it recalls Arnaut Daniel’s swelling tide, emblem of the task of the poet-maker). Although, the trope here is more dramatic: the spiral and a vortex.
Still, what is a vortex? Moreover, how can we understand this figure beyond onto-logical mimesis, without the assembly of the metaphor and the wrench of translation and un-translation of the orderability of language or reversal to the gathering of the dichtung? In fact, the vortex has nothing to do with linguistic overturns; it is rather a moment of the time of transfiguration in the very flow of language, freeing the origin and the destiny each and every time as it sub-merges, below (infra) the poetical rhythm. Recently, Giorgio Agamben has defined the task of the vortex in these terms: “a poet is the one who plunges into the vortex, where everything evokes again for him a name. One by one he has to take back signifying words from the flow of discourse and throw them in the whirlpool, to find time and again the the illustrious vernacular of the poem as names” .
I want to follow Agamben’s lead up to the vortex, but I want to claim that Ajens makes a turn, since he does not find any “illustrious vernacular”. With Ajens, I take it that the infrapoetical stands for: “furcación debida sin término ni deuda” (Ajens 72-73). Since the vortex is the site of an-archy, I conclude by paying attention (metonymically) to just once instance where Ajens’ writing borders this zone, which is a reflection on infrapoetical discharge after the end of the Poem:
“y del Poema que no hay
Se estira y / o se estrecha
Allende su facturación en ruinas
Aquende su artefacer
En sacrificio asterisco; ahora
Sin hallarse del todo, impagable
Pago cinerario, don
De andes (aquende don,
Dona, guaCa y anDe). (Ajens 55)
Before the ruins, we find the ashes of the immemorial. This amount to less than a name, declining any act of naming that prepares salvation of the mystic confabulation. That is why, in Ajens, there is no vernacular supplement or compensation (“pago”) in exchange for poetical truth: a fracturing of the logic of equivalence, and of the order of the word (even the enjambment of the ordering of words) . There is merely donation of the vortex language outside itself within the scene of conflagration. It is telling that just a few pages later, in a remarkable instance of mediation of the poetic language and the poet, we read: “lengua ataxis / lengua que mengua, lengua sin lengua, humedal es [en] contact o” (Ajens 61). Cúmulo Lúcumo defiantly moves the difficulty of an ataxic language with no return. And when convergence and proximity is produced, it is only to leave language to its own damping; language of the interminus (ex-término) route, just ataxia without destinial sending.
 Alberto Moreiras writes in the ‘Foreword’ to the English Edition of Poetry After the Invention of America: Don’t Light the Flower (McMillian, 2011): “. Andrés Ajens tells us that there is nothing ordered about that ordering, and that the only good ways of discussing it have to be placed under the sign of the disaster, of the derrota and the fracaso, which he translates, internally as it were, prior to the English translation, respectively as the drift of a defeat, as a drifting nonvictory at any rate, and as a failure into 1,000 pieces, a disseminating failure that is not at the same time a failure of dissemination. But where is the drift, exactly? Perhaps in the poem, or toward the poem. The defeat is poematic, and it is the poem that explodes into 1,000 pieces, trizas, trites, triturations”. xix pp.
 Giorgio Agamben. “Vortici”, in Il fuoco e il racconto. Roma: Nottetempo, 2014.
 Ajens himself has reflected on the archaic (principle and fundamental) relationship between exchange or money and the Poem. In his essay “Lengua, Poesía, Dinero: Economías de Gabriela Mistral“ (La flor del extérmino (2011), he writes: “En cualquier caso: olvido –¿activo inactivo, automático destinar o franco fatal destino?– de lengua en lengua, y olvido de paso de la (trópica) casa de cambio. A favor de la poeta del Elqui podríamos decir que a diferencia del incontournable Stéphane Mallarmé –quien exceptúa a la lengua literaria de toda metaforización o intercambia-bilidad comercial–, ella no le otorga ningún privilegio ni virginidad trascendental a la lengua, en poesía o no.” 26 pp.
About the Author:
Gerardo Muñoz is a doctoral student at Princeton University. His dissertation studies the crisis of State form and political principles in nineteenth and twentieth century Latin America. He has translated essays of Giorgio Agamben and is a member of the Infrapolitical Deconstruction Collective.